Saturday, February 6, 2010


My suggestions for new Olympic sports:

(1) Contestants must have cruciate ligaments of one knee removed entirely, other knee without cartilage or matching end-plate surfaces, tibial and talar surfaces must also meet at diverging angles, and visible bony outriggers beneath skin on both sides of one knee.
(2) Contestants cannot lift more than 5 lb and should not use abdominal muscles (which are not really avaiable for much anyhow) to change position or exert self.
(3) Current venue precludes rotation of left shoulder.
(4) Both hands exhibit strong tremors during fine motor activity.
(5) Some thumb and finger oppisition is limited or delayed, but this is intermittent (at referees' discretion.)
(6) Asthma flares after a minute of exertion.

CRIPTATHLON challenges to include:

Opening shrink-wrap around almost anything.
Opening "child-proof" medicine caps.
Opening juice and beverage bottles.
Transporting any sort of meal from one room to another while leaning safely on a rolling walker.
Tying shoes.
Pulling up pants if skin is sweaty from exertion.
Getting items from floor three feet away.
Filling out lengthy, repetitive forms in longhand because government websites are always down after 8 years of George W. Bush.
Answering dozens of emails wanting a personal response to "How are you doing? What's new?"
Wiping ass. (Bonus points if contestant has had explosive diarrhea.)

I'm due for a Gold medal but I can't get up on the winner's stand. And will someone please raise my clenched fist into the air for me during the national anthem?


Thursday, February 4, 2010


(Aurora Crowns Jupiter's North Pole)

Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite, followed by poetry after the jump.


by Philip Booth

You know.
The light on upstairs
before four every morning. The man
asleep every night before eight.
What programs they watch. Who
traded cars, what keeps the town
The town knows. You
know. You've known for years over
drugstore coffee. Who hurts, who
Why, today, in the house
two down from the church, people
you know cannot stop weeping.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there.


Sunday, January 31, 2010


To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post here. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices.

For more detailed information, posted elsewhere on this blog are:

Pya Dictionary from Skenish to English (complete up to present chapter), with some cultural notes included
Pya Cast of Characters (complete up to present chapter)
Owl Manage on Saya Island, original plans
Saya Island Eastern End After Development
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Map of Saya Island, Teppe and Pea Pods Environs After Development
Skene Character Lineage at Midway Through Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


Lovemaking between Maar and Pyosz underwent a change, becoming less ferocious, still urgent but even more prolonged despite having less extra time for it. Pyosz murmured "I want to give you pleasure beyond the human scale, I think of ways to do it when I'm waiting to see you again, I want to melt my body into yours, I wish I could be inside your extraordinary mind -- right there, hmm, I found the spot for this moment? Oh it makes me ache when I spread your legs like this, my Maar, an ache only the rest of our days together can satisfy."

During one afterglow near dawn, Maar was tracing Pyosz's face with moonlit fingertips and she said "It's your mouth that undoes me, claims all of me."

"You like my wide pillowy lips?" laughed Pyosz, nibbling at Maar's thumb.

"No -- I mean yes, lev yes, but what I was referring to is the way you talk to me. We're always in conversation, it's how we discovered each other, and the way you talk, the rich kindness and ardor of your voice, the things you say -- I can't wait for what's next" said Maar. "I see everyone around you hold their breath a little when you're about to speak."

Pyosz was inordinately pleased. "I began talking early" she admitted. "But all my most private words are for you, have been this long year. Here, let me whisper something in your ear."

At breakfast Qala said "I think we should move one of your new hives to this end of Saya."

"I've thought about that, but worried they might get territorial about the tillage" said Pyosz. "Plus we have little ones playing impetuously out there,"

"Little ones need to learn respect for bees, and we can handle their territoriality, given all the work they do for us" said Qala. After dinner, Pyosz, Maar and Thleen walked to the orchard, where Pyosz smoked an already tucked-in hive, closed its entrance, and hoisted it into the wain with Maar's help. They took a soak before returning to set the hive in a wind baffle Lawa had built for it amid the profusion of Isola Fling rose starts Qala was encouraging near the old kitchen. Pyosz warned Thleen "They'll be suspicious in the morning, I'd steer clear of this area for a few days."

With the completion of the safety fence around the eastern cliffs, Thleen's kickball net had been transferred from the pasture to the killing field. "I like keeping an eye on her, especially if Ziri is over" said Qala. Ziri was envious of the fishing Thleen got to do every morning with Lawa. Lawa had given the Heaps a few home-made jigs and a lesson, but they weren't having much luck pulling in a catch from Kacang. Pyosz heard Thleen explain "Well see, my island's way bigger than your island, 'course we have more fish around us." She passed it on to Maar for her to deal with issues of humility and possession.

Likewise, when Qala heard the extent of summertime chores dealt out to the Heaps children, Thleen's list was commensurately lengthened. Weeding, caring for the chickens, picking fruit and nuts, planting starts, cleaning privies, and combing katts all became part of Thleen's daily regimen. Despite sleep deprivation that Pyosz and Maar shrugged off, Pyosz found an hour or two each afternoon to go into her studio. She reminded herself it was necessary income, to supplement her abbas' retirement and save for Thleen's education, and therefore taking their labor to free up her own time for ceramics was a balanced trade.

A few days later, Koben and Meamea were both diagnosed with scarlet fever, and Ziri was well-exposed. It hit Kacang at a time when all adults were overextended with jobs, tending new vines and lambs, and already a baby in their midst. Owl Manage talked it over, determining they'd all had the disease, and offered to take the baby Ura until the other children were recovered. Pyosz got warning signs to look for from Briel and a recommendation that Ura be brought immediately to the clinic if she fell ill. Kacang accepted their offer as Ramea, one of the abbas, took to her own bed.

Pyosz carried Ura around in a yameen, feeling her interest in babies altered now that pregnancy was on her visible horizon. When Maar was home, she too was first in line to hold, feed, or tend to Ura, which bothered Thleen after a couple of days. Ura missed her emmas at night but otherwise seemed to enjoy the greater quiet, lesser chaos. In late mornings, Thleen would write letters and cards to the Heaps and wrap them with books or puzzles to share. She and Lawa would ferry these to the Kacang dock with pots of soup and baked goods, leaving them with a loud hail but no contact.

Ura stayed hale, and after five days returned home although Ramea remained in bed, weakened by her bout. On the way back Thleen said "I'm glad we won't have a baby around any more, they take too much work and aren't really fun to play with."

Pyosz said "So...You know Maar and I plan to get pregnant in the next year or so?"

"That's different, that will be our baby."

"Yes, but she will need just as much attention -- more, from me for a while -- and she won't be able to run around with you for a couple of years" warned Pyosz.

"No, it'll be different" insisted Thleen. "Can she sleep in my room?"

"Not at first, she'll need to be with me at night so I can feed her every few hours. After that we'll see" said Pyosz.

When Pyosz had called Yoj and Halling to tell them of her and Maar's plans, her abbas had been excited but the conversation had been quickly sidetracked by Halling and Maar discussing enhancements to radar that would give sinners the potentials for surveying deep water more clearly before deploying nets. Danaan had ordered four of the new devices into production before testing was completed and promised one would be sent to Pya for their evaluation without delay.

Yoj called back the following day to talk with Pyosz alone. "We were already thinking about coming to visit you during the week of Mchele Fair, so if you do have your partnering ceremony then, we'll be able to attend. Prl's almost decided to come as well."

"If she does, and if we can get Maar's sibs here, it will mean only one partnering ceremony, on Pya" said Pyosz.

"What about her emmas?" asked Yoj.

"Su is who answers the radio when we call, and her emmas will only speak to Thleen. Maar writes them all, and makes sure Thleen stays in touch. From what I can tell, Adon only sees them on Shmonah as well. Su is making the most of it" said Pyosz. "And she's keeping their larder well-stocked from Maar's allotment. They may not be able to buy as much beer but otherwise their income has to have improved, they can actually save for retirement now."

"Children inevitably push you where you never intended to go" said Yoj. "If you live in resistance, you'll live raw and unhappy."

A temporary glut of lemons arrived on market, and Qala hauled home several flats to preserve and make curd. She was also experimenting with a pickled onion relish and mint jelly, grinning at Pyosz "I mean to bring home a black ribbon of my own from Mchele Fair." Owl Manage meant to march as a contigent in the parade, taking Killer again of course but adding Sugarnose and Clabber as a pair of kids to pull the cart.

Thleen began going to Herne for lessons in stilt-walking, though Maar and Pyosz put the kibosh on any stilt over 4 feet in added height. Thleen also ferried with Ziri to a two-week kickball camp in Koldok. Kickball was not Ziri's passion but she was avid to escape vineyard chores on Kacang. They were practicing on Saya one late afternoon when Ziri chased down the ball and impetuously slammed it into the front of the new beehive. She ran for the house, but Thleen irrationally tried to rescue her ball. She spent the evening with lids swollen nearly shut, one side of her mouth puffy, and fell asleep early from the shot Briel came to give her.

On Roku after Market, Maar flew the ramp sinner to Saya so Moasi could visit. They piled charcoal in the grill and cleaned a few dozen uo for smoking on the fire.

"The katts like it best when we eat uo because it's so fatty, we can't save the heads and skin for stock so they get all the leftover bits" said Pyosz, listening to the rumbled threats between four creatures hunched over their separated bowls. She was slicing green tomatoes to dip in buttermilk, then corn meal before frying.

Pank was filling Thleen's ears with what it had been like when she was a child. "Every morning for breakfast except Shmonah, the same thing, vitgow." This was a loose risotto made with duck fat and scallions. "During winter emma would break a egg over our bowl of vitgow and set it in the aga while we dressed, and by the time we reached the table, it would have set like a cap over the top, add a dash of pepper sauce and I loved it. Plus the ceramic bowl was hot, I could warm my hands cupping it. In the summer it would be topped with stewed fruit. But most of what was in the bowl was always vitgow. I got awfully tired of it. And always fish with rice for dinner on worknights."

"What did you have on Shmonah?" asked Thleen.

"Aahh" said Pank. "Bacon, one slice apiece until you went into second grade, then two crispy slices all to yourself. Emma would fry onions and potatoes in the leftover grease, sometimes mushrooms and tomatoes, too, if we had them. Rice pudding with milk and raisins, too. And on special holidays, three or four times a year, dinner would be ham or pork roast or lamb."

"That's all? Only three or four times a year?" said Thleen, a small furrow in her brow.

"We didn't have Pya then, no corn or wheat. Lots of roast goose and duck, though, there on Beras" reminisced Pank. "Other children were jealous of our roast goose. But what I longed for was cheese and bacon and fruit trees with more than apples or pears. I think the main reason I went to work at the ejida, leaving Beras behind, was to have access to all the different kinds of food in the ejida system."

"You get to have that every day now" said Thleen proudly, as if she were the bestower of the largesse.

"Yep. And no more standing in cold water after school until dinner, tending rice paddies and trying to keep my feet from going numb" said Pank. "That's why Beras hand-made sokken are the best anywhere, you know, we use extra-thick wool to keep our feet from frostbite."

"What is Chloddia best for?" asked Thleen.

"Silver" said Maar instantly.

"Kickball" added Pyosz, just for the smile that would transform Thleen's face.

"Not a lot of pilots, but whoever does come to the Lofthall from the mining islands are exceptional" said Lawa.

"Poetry and robust politics" added Moasi, as Qala stole a kiss from Lawa.

"Pava doesn't have the same high opinion of Skene's ejida system that you did" Vants said to Pank.

"Well, she wouldn't after growing up here" acknowledged Pank. "She still balking at enrolling for the U?"

"Yeah. She's got a part-time job with a clammer on Bohaira Lagoon, where her watercraft ability is much admired. She and Su are spending a lot of time together. Su tinkers with the tiny motor on the boat they use" said Vants.

Maar looked up sharply. "I'm glad Pava is making a friend, and they're less than 3 years apart, but -- at their age, they're not in sui. There's no romance, is there?"

"Not from Pava's end" said Vants knowledgeably. Maar relaxed. She was quickly downing a plate of the first food to be ready, along with Dekkan. They had to leave shortly to go on an afternoon sinning. Maar said "I'm handing over use of the new radar to Dekkan today."

Uli looked surprised. "Won't that conflict with your decision-making? I mean, it's up to you to give the final go-ahead on lifting the net, right?"

"Yes, but we need someone besides me trained on reading this equipment" said Maar. "Oby raised the same objection. I figure Dekkan will take the responsibility very seriously, however." Dekkan looked a little bloodless from the honor, in fact. Maar grinned at her reassuringly. Pyosz felt a frisson of fear and forced it aside, reminding herself to trust Maar's judgment.

The fear returned, however, three hours later as Pyosz was in the barn starting milking with Vants' help. Lawa came to the milkstand and said "Mill called, said she didn't want us to hear it from elsewhere: The sinning got aborted today because of a levi threat. Maar is going to meet with her at the Lofthall before coming home. Everybody's okay, nothing was lost except a load of fish."

Pyosz began stripping off her gloves. "Go" said Vants unnecessarily. As Pyosz strode to the ferry, Thleen ran after her. "Can I go, too? I heard what Lawa said, please, emma?" It was that unconscious emma which swayed Pyosz's decision.

"Come on. But you have to memorize your questions to ask later, this is a serious grown-up talk, can you do that?" Thleen was silent on the ferry ride.

Mill's eyebrows rose high when Pyosz entered with Thleen. Thleen, following her own protocol, offered to somberly shake both Mill and Oby's hands, and she gave a diffident "H'lo, sibu" to Maar sitting at a desk with a mug of tea between her hands. A moment later Uli came in the door, and Dekkan registered relief mixed with irritation. Fohol and two other sinners were in chairs next to Dekkan. Jiips was quietly on the radio in the corner.

Mill sat down, tugged at her side curls for a moment, and said "It's too levvin' early to call Skene. So why don't you start at the beginning, I'll take notes for a report."

Maar looked shiny from dried sweat. She said "We found the main run easily enough, it was basically in the same location as this morning. But I noticed immediately that we had a thick border of leviathan congregation -- border, not an even spread. And juveniles were not in the front lines."

Dekkan spoke up. "She radioed it to us, told us it wasn't a meaningless cluster, to look sharp."

"I had the sinners form a four-point star and Dekkan take position immediately to my southwest. Then I opened hatch and hooked the mezi in visible array. I also deployed it to the on position." Maar paused and looked at Mill. "I don't know if they can pick up electromagentic frequencies that minute or over distance, to tell if the ray is ready to fire, but it can't hurt to assume they do and to be on ready."

Mill nodded, as if this idea wasn't new to her.

"I then switched position with Fohol, directly opposite me, as she and I have discussed doing. Perhaps they anticipate our sequence, and I wanted to keep them having to improvise. Likewise, before we started grapple sequence, I had Dekkan do a circuit of us with her radar on deep survey, and then take position to my southeast this time. Which still leaves the central zone most exposed, so next time we'll send radar to hover there. No pattern twice in a row, I think we need to plan on variability" said Maar. She looked around at Fohol, the communion between them unspoken. Pyosz had a sudden glimpse of what they might have been like in bed together, and was briefly capsized by jealousy.

"So...we went slow, methodical. I began the grapple, passed it widdershins, and when it reached Fohol I asked Dekkan to report. She said negative, and we closed the grapple. I was focused on my own radar, and there wasn't a flicker. But one second after I radioed to prepare for net seal, Dekkan said to wait." Maar paused and looked at Dekkan, handing her the narrative.

Dekkan cleared her throat. "It wasn't distinct. I mean, the image is always completely distorted by motion in three dimensions as the fish find their freedom closed off and they react. It's -- like a single organism, panicking. But that's -- it makes sense, visually, if you don't try to piece out details, let it be an organic blur. There was something behind it this time. Not an absolute shape, but enough to say it wasn't just artifact. And becoming slowly more distinct, as if it was ascending into range."

"What shape?" asked Oby.

"Elongated teardrop...except the hindquarters weren't entirely visible."

"And what dimensions?" continued Oby.

Dekkan glanced at Maar. "As long as the bottom circumference of the net" she said with a note of defiance. "A third as wide at its widest."

Oby snorted softly. Mill said "We have very few confirmed reports of leviathans that size."

"I know that" said Dekkan defensively. "I'm not exaggerating."

"Nothing at all registered on my radar" said Maar evenly. "Nonetheless, I ordered grapple abort and within 30 seconds everyone was free of net except me. Retraction occurred without incident."

"And what then, did you see it swim away?" Oby asked Dekkan.

"Not as such. The images all dissipated concurrently" said Dekkan.

"You had been entrusted with a new piece of equipment, you were predisposed to expect something to occur, can you swear to me you weren't simply prey to inexperienced suggestibility?" Oby pushed. Uli's jaw tightened, but Dekkan said without flare "I saw what I saw."

"I believe her" volunteered Fohol. Maar added "I took note of the fact that with our abort, the perimeter of leviathan onlookers thinned considerably. I ordered us done for the day, so we'd have time to debrief and reconsider procedure." Which is another way of saying she believes Dekkan, too thought Pyosz. She flicked a glance at Uli.

Mill wrote a couple of lines unhurriedly before saying "Well, all personnel and equipment in good order, that's to the plus. Maar, I have every reason to trust your discretion. I ask it to continue, and that we attempt to gather multiple confirmations in future sins, which will be possible when we get the second radar array in place. I'll pass this on to Skene and apprise you of any feedback. Go home, have your weekend. Except Maar, stay behind, will you? I need your signature on this report."

Uli and Dekkan both gave Pyosz exuberant hugs outside the Lofthall, and Thleen responded in kind. "Thank you" Pyosz whispered to Dekkan.

Pyosz let Thleen engage the ferry lever to take them home. "Pyosz...I have something I need to tell you." Thleen's voice was very serious.

"All right, I'm listening."

"I...I really don't like olives, I pick them out of dishes you put them in. Maybe you could make stuff sometimes without the olives in it." Thleen was extremely apologetic.

Pyosz was completely caught off guard. "I hadn't noticed, honey. Of course I'll keep that in mind. You're a good eater, anything you really don't like, just let me know."

Thleen now met her eyes, smiling. "Okay." She muscled through the pylon exchange, Pyosz letting her handle it unassisted. With a sigh of accomplishment, Thleen said "What does it feel like, being in love? Like how you and sibu are in love?"

"It's not so very different from other passion, really. When I was your age, I knew I loved my abbas with all my heart and I wanted to spend every day of my life with them. How I feel about Maar is like that, only -- well, there's desire, you'll come into that when you're older. And we have a balance of power because we're the same in the world, you know. That balance is different than any other kind of love. But we had it as friends, too." Pyosz could see Thleen was thinking it over. Pyosz didn't believe in minimizing the ardor of children.

Vants had finished with Pyosz's goats and gone home to milk her own doe. Moasi was chopping vegetables in the kitchen with Tu. Lehen had brought noodles and mutton from Talaba, and Lawa was collaborating on pepper-coated samaki with Frahe.

Pyosz said to Thleen "Let's make a sponge cake we can layer with some of the fresh lemon curd, make Maar happy, eh?" Maar arrived home ten minutes later and bathed until dinner was almost ready. Over the meal, she retold the story of that afternoon's sinning. The adults were quiet, but Thleen said "Sibu's always one step ahead of the levs" with happy pride. "And Dekkan, too, she's ahead, too."

Moasi asked "Did you talk with Halling yet?"

"No. Tomorrow" said Maar.

After dinner they sang on the porch for a while before Maar flew Moasi, Lehen and Vants to Teppe. The Herne Island folks left at the same time. When Maar returned, she walked south from the jichang with her flash for a minute before returning to the porch.

"You see something?" asked Qala.

"No" said Maar sheepishly. "I know I shouldn't still be hungry, and it's a waste of things we should allow to ripen. but I can't stop thinking about the taste of those fried green tomatoes we had at lunch." She opened her palms to reveal two dew-speckled green globes, just picked.

Pyosz stood. "I'll cook them for you." Maar made lemonade while Pyosz fried, and carried the pitcher with extra glasses back to the porch. She ate with sighs of appreciation, saying "We simply never had these on Chloddia, or in the Lofthall. Like the flavor of spring itself."

Getting ready for bed that night, Maar said "I'd like to make it formal that my side of our bed is the right side. I mean, we end up where we end up -- " she grinned wickedly at Pyosz -- "but I want you to keep the alarm on your nightstand, and let me have this nighstand all to myself."

"Certainly" said Pyosz. "Your lamp and jar of water is already there, what else?"

"I want to hang some photos on my side of the bed" said Maar, looking around. "And, you know, I've always wanted a big reading chair with a floor lamp in my bedroom -- maybe over there in front of the windows?"

"We could go look at Klosa's tomorrow while Thleen is at Kacang all day" suggested Pyosz.

"There's a place in Pertama I've wanted to browse through, too" said Maar, opening the nightstand drawer to hand Pyosz a handkerchief, a small notebook and several charcoal pencils. "There's something else stuck here in the back" she muttered. pulling the drawer almost all the way out. Suddenly Pyosz yelped and leaped across the bed, but Maar already had a battered novel in her hands.

An incredulous grin spread across Maar's face. She looked at Pyosz, curled in embarrassment on the bed, and said teasingly "Seems like working in such scanty attire would leave these rice paddy women subject to hyopthermia. Maybe I should ask Pank about it." She moved to lift the cover, and the book fell open easily to a place in the second chapter. Pyosz buried her face in the covers as Maar began reading. After a few seconds, Maar chuckled deliciously and said "I'm thinking this might make for interesting reading-aloud material. To go to sleep by. Or, from the looks of it, maybe you could tell it to me by heart."

Pyosz lifted her red cheeks from under the quilt. "Or we could act it out." Relishing the shock on Maar's face, she said "Take off everything but your otos and your gilet. And then come straddle me."

Maar clicked off the lamp before dropping her knickers.

The following afternoon, Maar's sinner lowered a pallet containing a lovely settee in faded striped silk, a double-wide plush chair in rosy chintz, and an overstuffed chair of eggplant-colored velvet. They put the velvet chair in their bedroom, next to a floor lamp with a green glass shade. The settee went in the upstairs hall and the double-wide chair was placed between the two hearth chairs. It was all called "Maar's furniture".

Waiting in the mail was a fat envelope containing new wills and guardianship papers. Pyosz called Prl, waking her up, to go over the specifics one last time. They ferried over to Kacang to pick up Thleen and had Ziri's abbas act as witnesses as they signed all the documents with Maar's fountain pen. Thleen came to read her bedtime story in the new bedroom chair, pronouncing it "dreamy soft." Ember, sprawled along its back, blinked agreement.

Ljeto brought long days of overhead sunlight and a bumper crop in the orchard. Pyosz had no idea how she'd met the demands of Saya last year. Even with Qala and Lawa's steady help, Maar doing chores every evening and Thleen making bitter comments about child labor, it was all she could do to keep up with what felt like basics of cooking, baking, milking, and fruit processing. And potting she reminded herself. And sleeping with Maar.

And planning a partnership ceremony. She bought a new notebook in which to enter ideas, leaving it on the dining table so Maar could add her input. She kept finding lines penciled in Thleen's scrawl "Have childrin fly in by kite" or "Chocolate ice cream all you want". She also got long letters from Prl full of suggestions. She kept calling Prl and saying "Sounds fine, you make the arrangements, okay?" She and Maar had decided all that really mattered was that Thleen have a set of red silks to match theirs and that the dance afterward feature Dodd's band. All the rest could be left to Prl's obsessive eye.

One of Prl's calls, however, was not what she expected. Prl said in a tone Pyosz couldn't read "So, how is your fertility synchronization going?"

"Well, neither of us is due to have a period until two weeks before Mchele Fair, but mucus and temperature readings are close enough. Briel says she can work with a five day gap or less" said Pyosz.

"So you may be having the procedure right around the time of your ceremony?" asked Prl,

"If all goes well. Why, do you have a concern about it?" Pyosz was nervous.

"No. no." There was a long pause, and Pyosz finally asked "What are you not saying, emma?"

"Well, frankly, I'm surprised you haven't mentioned planning a consultation with me" said Prl.

Pyosz sat down abruptly. "What -- you mean as Genist?" She saw Qala turn around in the kitchen and look her way. "Emma, we're not using a contribution."

"Don't be obtuse, Pyosz. I offer extensive counseling that's not linked to a contribution request." Pyosz realized Prl's voice was acerbic in the way that often covered hurt feelings.

"Okay, emma, I guess I am being obtuse. If there's any one on Skene who knows my genetic history, it's you, and I assumed if there was a problem you'd have told me long before now. Ditto for Maar. Is it -- I'm scared now -- are we a problem combination?"

"No, Pyosz, of course I'd have raised that sort of alarm before now. But I don't do research and analysis for prospective emmas until I'm specifically requested to do so. There's a great deal of information you would both find interesting."

"I can't believe how I've taken you for granted." Pyosz's regret was intense. 'Please accept my belated request -- our request, both of us. We'll be lucky and honored to hear whatever you assemble for us.'

'You've had a lot on your minds" acknowledged Prl. "Do you want to have our consultation in person?"

"Yes, if you think we can wait until you get there in Mchele. If not. we'll arrange a visit to Skene somehow" said Pyosz.

"It can wait" said Prl, her voice lighter. "It will be the most meaningful meeting of my career." There was a charged silence. Pyosz felt like weeping. "I don't know how to thank you, emma, for my life itself" she whispered.

"The joy is mine" said Prl.

"Do you any other advice to hand me that I've been too preoccupied to notice I need?" said Pyosz.

"No, you are as usual doing more than seems possible" said Prl. "I will say right now, you and Maar don't need to be concerned about being too closely related to recommend combining your lineages."

Pyosz felt a chill. "Lev, emma...once again, that question never occurred to me."

"Nobody much is thinking about it" said Prl with a thick voice. "It's a growing problem that actually could threaten our survival on Skene."

Another turgid silence. Pyosz said "This is what has been bothering you, isn't it, emma?"

"Yes, but don't repeat that, Pyosz, not even to family. I have legal -- boundaries. I've decided to talk with you, and perhaps Maar, when I visit you. Until then, please set it aside in your mind."

Not a request Pyosz found it easy to fulfill. She later decided it was in some way this niggling notion of Skene's future which prompted her raising the question of a storm shelter during Shmonah family dinner. She asked Uben, Ziri's abba and geothermal expert, which rocky zone near Owl Manage would be best for sinking a cellar. Uli immediately joined the debate with Uben, the two of them agreeing portions of the escarpment were deep, solid rock without penetrating fissures that might leak water or give burrowing shu access.

Pyosz retrieved her maps and put them on the dining table for more quibbling. She took a breath and said "I've got a further notion for you to consider: Would it be possible to construct a rock chamber that could be sealed watertight for a day or more?"

"Why would you want that?" demanded Uben, but Uli's eyes flashed as she guessed "In case of tsunami, you mean. A safe zone to ride out natural disaster." When Pyosz nodded, all of the elder women clustered around the map, discussing seals, air ventilation pipes, and eventual survival supplies. Pyosz picked up her notebook and sat back to listen. Maar met her eyes and blew her a somber kiss.

Three afternoons later, Maar picked up Pyosz and Thleen for a trip to Sepek where they had the final fitting for the crimson silks they planned to wear at the partnership ceremony. They stopped for ice cream before returning to Saya, but Thleen remained terse and physically distant from Pyosz.

The next morning Thleen went to Kacang immediately after breakfast. Pank and Vants were already on Saya, and Pyosz was waving in the delivery of special pallets. The goat pen milled with confused bucklings. Lawa sat on the porch, giving a final whet to Pyosz's slaughter knives.

They were done by mid-afternoon. The three of them rinsed off under the outdoor shower, then walked silently to the hot springs for a long soak. Pyosz was milking when Thleen came in the barn, accompanied by Qala. Thleen looked over the herd, hopeful at first, but quickly accepting Pyosz had in fact gone through with it. Her small fists clenched, she said quietly "I hate you" before leaving.

That night in Maar's arms, Pyosz wept not for the kids or for Thleen's loss of regard, but for Poth. She did not reveal Uli's secret as she mourned Poth's disappearance among them.

A week later, Pava arrived on the huolon from Skene. She carried only one bag, and she had painted a blue hand on her face. She refused to talk with Mill or anyone else. Vants met her at the jichang and ferried with her to Teppe, where an upstairs room was waiting.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.